Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part II – Origin of Visual Novels

In the first part, where I focused on the fundamental introductions to visual novels and interactive fiction games, I will now touch upon the history of visual novels, and how it came about.


Visual novel originated from way back during the 1980s, and back then, the term “visual novel” was pretty much non-existent, before the term was coined, games such as those are simply known as H-game, or simply, eroge. During that time, Japanese companies were competing with United States with the quality of their computers; the Japanese had the Sharp X1, Fujitsu FM-7 and NEC PC-8801 as top contenders. Sharp and Fujitsu’s performance are much more higher then the weaker NEC with only 16 colors and no sound support. The latter needed some way to regain the momentum, and thus, eroge was born. The first erotic game came to life, with the release of “Night Life” by Koei, and a little later, Koei also released Danchi Tsuma no Yuwaku, making Koei one of the major software company in Japan. Following Koei’s success, the later years see more eroge releases from other companies like Enix, Square and Nihon Falcom, which would again, became major game software companies around a decade later.

During those times, stories weren’t the main focus of the game, and it was more just about sex, literally. Customers quickly got tired of paying 8800 yen of multitude of eroges which were basically almost the same thing, and in response, a new genre was born. ASCII’s release of Chaos Angels marks a new direction, the game is an RPG eroge, and this one-of-a-kind genre at the time, inspired releases of other RPG eroges like the Dragon Knight series by Elf, and the Rance series by Alicesoft. Customers however, quickly got weary again, even though RPG elements were added, the stories were dull, and it’s like the plot were giving awkward excuses just to have their own characters having sex for no apparent reason. In the end, they were just like before, eroge, with sex as the primary focus.

However, in 1992, Elf surprised everyone with the release of Dokyusei. It no longer has the “mindless sex” flaw previous eroges possess. In here, players has several girls to choose from, and you need to win the affection of the girl you like by accessing her route and to make the correct choices. If done right, the player will be awarded with a sex scene. If you want to play another girl’s route, just restart the game from the beginning. This is a pattern most eroge uses, even the newer ones; Dokyusei pretty much set the basic foundation for later eroges.

During all these eroge hype, another game was attracting quite a lot of attention, and it was known as Otogirisou. The game had multiple endings, and the stories were delivered through text and backgrounds alone. They were known as “sound novel”, where elements like stories and sound (music and sfx) are the main focus instead of visuals.

Leaf realized the potential of sound novels, and in 1996, they implemented the concept of sound novels into their eroge with the release of Shizuku, featuring full backgrounds, music and character sprites; they called it the “visual novel”. The game features a psychological horror story, where the denpa genre originated from. It stars Nagase Yuuichi, as he investigates the mystery where girls were constantly losing their sanity; with suicide and rape a frequent occurrence. This visual novel still features quite some sex scenes, in fact, it’s pretty much one of the main themes in Shizuku. The game brilliantly integrated sex into the stories, effectively making the sex scenes actually relevant to the plot, unlike the previous eroges where sex scenes were more “mindless”.

Leaf later on releases another visual novel, this time titled Kizuato, which were just almost as dark as their previous release, yet compelling. This time, players assume the role of Kashiwagi Kouichi. He kept having nightmares that he was murdering people, and one day his nightmare turned into a reality: the news show a brutal murder taking place at the exact same location in his dream. The visual novel is a big influence to later famous visual novels such as Tsukihime and Higurashi.

Weirdly, Leaf released To Heart later on, the third visual novel which unlike the previous two, contain a simple, sweet and heart-warming story. To Heart would later went on and became a massive hit, rivaling that, or even topping the sales of their previous two visual novel by several folds.

With the success lead by Leaf, many other eroge companies followed what Leaf had done: visual novels. One such notable eroge company at the time, was Tactics. Tactics produced Moon and One ~Kagayaku Kisetsu e~, both with considerable success, before most of the main staffs in Tactics left and formed another brand of their own, which would be known as Key. The new studio then went on to make countless masterpieces, with Kanon, Air and Clannad; Key’s trilogy of visual novels which gained tremendous worldwide fame. Almost all of Key’s visual novels had been adapted into anime too, also with major successes.


Visual novels are the next big thing, as they even made up of a majority of the Japanese games market. Newer visual novels like Fate/stay night, Ef – a fairy tale of the two, G-senjou no Maou, and even Steins;Gate stormed the new visual novel mainstream market and I’m sure we will still see more visual novels like these with similar quality as time goes on.

Source(s): Link


Distinguishing Visual Novels
Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part I – Introduction to Visual Novels
Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part II – Origin of Visual Novels
Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part III – Deconstruction of Visual Novels
Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part IV – Differentiating Visual Novels from Games
Distinguishing Visual Novels: Bonus Part – Interviews

This entry was posted by Kai.

17 thoughts on “Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part II – Origin of Visual Novels

    • Yeah, thanks to your article.^^

      Most of the ones I’ve played are Japanese only online ones at mazenove.com, or Japanese only android ones, so I don’t think many will be interested. I started playing some of Umineko no naku koro ni as well as Steins;Gate, which I enjoyed the parts I played, though currently I’ve put them on hold due to being busy with “real life/offline” stuff. For those starting out with VNs (in English), I recommend http://altogether.insani.org , as all of those are short, free, there’s a good variety of genres to choose from, and a lot of them I really liked. Which VNs would you recommend?

      • Hmm, these are kinda uncommon especially for English-only players ^^” Even for those who play untranslated visual novels (for those I know at least), they mostly just catch up on the latest visual novels each month, like how we catch up on the newest anime each season. It’s something I can’t do for VNs, considering I can’t read them moonrunes. Also, android VNs eh, I got some English ones on my phone but haven’t started for any of them, lol. Yea, if anything mainstream titles like those really do take a long time to finish, lol. I still dreaded how was I able to finish the “first” part of Higurashi, which was like a total of four visual novels combined. There’s the second part of Higurashi I haven’t started yet, lol.

        From what I can see in the link, most of those VNs are mostly fanmade by individual fans, doujinshi circles or various amateur groups. But one thing about them is that, it’s short, like you said, and it’s perfect for beginners wondering just how VNs work^^

        As for what I recommend, any from this link https://deluscar.wordpress.com/all-time-favorite-lists/all-time-favorite-visual-novels/ And additionally, Kara no Shoujo, Deardrops/Kira Kira, Hoshizora no Memoria (I haven’t finish this one though) and if you don’t mind gameplay/VNs, Kamidori and perhaps Sengoku Rance.

        • I would recommend that you read the second part though. I consider Tsumihoroboshi the best arc of higurashi.

          But maybe I’m biased since i am a hugh fan of higurashi lol.

  1. It was nice reading about some of the history behind visual novels since I never really learned about their earlier days and how they started. It makes sense that some of the earliest ones revolved around the erotic material though, considering a vast majority of VNs even to this day contain explicit sexual content.

    I still haven’t played too many of them but I’ve enjoyed the ones I have gotten to. I think the only standard VNs I’ve completed are Katawa Shoujo and Saya no Uta, both of which I enjoyed. I also really liked some of the more game-ish VNs (though I’m not sure if everyone would consider them VNs) like Ace Attorney and Zero Escape. There’s also Fate/stay night, but as of yet I’ve only played the Fate route. I still have yet to play many out there but the thing I love about VNs is that it seems to combine all the aspects of other Japanese entertainment. The visuals reminiscent of an anime or manga, interaction that’s almost like a game of sorts, and the detail and storytelling like light novels. So much potential with that format and it’s no wonder people like them so much.

    I really want to play more since it seems a lot of anime come from VNs. F/SN like mentioned before seems to be a big one, but even some of my favorites (Clannad and Steins;Gate) came from them so it really goes to show that VNs can be quite something.

    • While a majority of them contain sexual content, stories do take a more central focus now. Till this day, I’m not sure if I really like them (honestly speaking, I skipped most H-scenes since I really want to get back to the story, unless it’s a character I really like) but judging from their root, their presence does make sense. Ones like nukige may be a different story though.

      I do understand that visual novels are very time-consuming media, but if you have time, I do recommend to pick out a few more titles^^ Like you said, visual novels are really interesting media, implementing various other existing Japanese media and combine them into one. The visual novels you play are all pretty good titles, tell me if you need more recommendations^^ Unfortunately, Fate route is probably the least interesting in Fate/Stay Night, perhaps even more so if you had watched the anime, since it follows the Fate route. Do give UBW and HF a try if you get the chance.

      • It’s certainly nice to see how creators have started expanding more on them, it’s a medium that has lots of potential for storytelling. So far I’m fine with most of the h-scenes and such (I am a teenage boy after all, so that certainly helps), though admittedly the writing is typically, well, awkward to say the very least. Sometimes cringe-worthy even. That said, they don’t really change my opinion of a given VN on the whole, though I won’t go out of my way to play a nukige. As far as VNs go, I’m focused on enjoyable stories and nothing more than that.

        I definitely want to try out more of them, I have a good share downloaded and I just have to find the opportunity to play through them. And I’ll ask you if I’m in need of a fantastic new VN to try out. Just took a look at your list of favorite VNs, I have a few of them already but I’ll definitely get my hands on the others too, there are lots I don’t know about yet. And I’ve heard from just about everywhere that Fate is the weak link as far as the three routes go, and just as you say I’ve seen the anime and, while still an enjoyable read because of all the added stuff (mainly character interactions, particularly the comedic ones), there wasn’t anything extraordinarily surprising since I’d largely seen the same story already. It was interesting seeing some of the story changes though, the anime did alter the plot a bit so at least some things were fresh. There are a few other series I’m planning to get to first but I am going to get to UBW and HF relatively soon. I’m looking forward to both, particularly because UBW is Tohsaka’s route (and Tohsaka’s my favorite character in just about anything) and HF seems to be hyped as the darkest and best route of the VN as well as the one that none of the anime material has covered as of yet. I’m very excited for both of them and I hope F/SN will be my next 10/10 series. Ideally something before that being impressive enough for a 10/10 would be cool too but F/SN seems to be the one I’m banking on seriously impressing me in terms of things I plan on finishing in the near future.

        • H-scenes in general don’t really ruin my overall enjoyment of a VN either, that said, I can’t really deny I’m mostly quite indifferent about them ^^” Especially if the story is really good, most of the time, I would rather just skip the H-scenes so that I can get back to it, unless it’s a VN centered around sex scenes.

          Sure :p The VNs I play are mostly restricted to English translated ones though sadly. My list of VN probably might need some updating soon, lol, but additionally from that list, I would also recommend Kara no Shoujo, Hoshizora (newest one I played), Kira Kira/Deardrops, Chaos;Head and others. If you don’t mind gameplay integrated VNs, Kamidori and the Rance series are great titles to check out. Indeed, though Fate did serve as an ample enough of an introduction to the series, and the Gary Stu/Mary Sue direction of the characters while frustrating, is simple enough and makes for a starting read. As for the anime altering some parts, you are probably seeing some elements from UBW and HF, lol, I think the anime combined a bit of stuffs from the other two routes for some reason. Tohsaka is indeed <3 and HF is indeed a pretty dark (but great) route, also interestingly, if you had watched it, some elements and plot points in Fate/Zero were also introduced/developed from HF as well.

          • The story definitely takes priority over any of those, since that’s the main reason why I’d pick a VN up in the first place.

            That makes sense, I wouldn’t play any VNs that weren’t translated into English since, well, I don’t know any other languages. I recognize some of those names but I don’t think I know much about any of those barring Chaos;Head since that one’s in the same series as Steins;Gate, or something to that effect. I’ll have to check those out. And yeah Fate was a good read even though I wasn’t particularly captivated by Shiro or Saber, though they’re both still pretty respectable characters overall. Though I’ve heard Shiro is much better in the other two routes, particularly in HF. Yeah it seems the anime did include some elements from the other two routes, though the Caster/Sakura thing doesn’t seem to be from any of them. It made for a pretty interesting arc for me though so no complaints there. I’ve heard Tohsaka’s relevant to all three routes so that makes me really happy and more of her will do wonders for me after so long. I’m quite curious about HF, I’ll have to see whether I enjoy UBW or HF more but either way I have no doubt I’ll put them both above Fate. And yeah my friend talked to me about how some of that Fate/Zero material (particularly a lot of the episode 1 content) related directly to HF and even included some of its spoilers, so I guess the shock value won’t be the same once I play through that, but it certainly won’t do anything to ruin my experience. A masterpiece is a masterpiece either way.

  2. Pingback: Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part III – Deconstruction of Visual Novels | deluscar

  3. Pingback: Distinguishing Visual Novels: Part IV – Differentiating Visual Novels from Games | deluscar

  4. Pingback: Visual Novel | Haochizuki (葉落ち月)

  5. Thats really a good history but I think you are missing something really important after Elf’s Dokyusei release. You have skip a really good catalyst that change visual novels for the better. You also focused more on leaf’s works and current favorite visual novels of all time.

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